tv NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt NBC May 11, 2017 5:30pm-6:01pm PDT
as a reminder lester holt from washington with his exclusive interview with president trump. . tonight, stunning revelations from president trump in our nbc news exclusive interview, his first since firing fbi director james comey. >> regardless of recommendation, i was going to fire comey. the president contradicting the white house story and his own vice president saying he was going to fire comey no matter what, calling him a show boat. and another bombshell, the question the president says he asked comey directly. >> i said if it's possible, would you let me know if i'm under investigation. he said you are not under investigation. >> tonight, our wide-ranging conversation and the fallout from it. "nightly news" from washington begins right now.
good evening to our viewers in the west. the white house just behind us on this rainy evening in washington as we come on the air with an nbc news exclusive. my one-on-one interview with president trump in the west wing earlier today where he made several headlines in discussing for the first time his firing of fbi director james comey. the man who was leading the investigation into possible ties between the trump campaign and russia. the president offering a new time line of when and how he made the decision to fire comey. and raising eyebrows as he described to me three separate conversations with comey about whether he the president was under
investigation. the president said the firing had everything to do with comey's poor handling of the clinton e-mail case. the conversation began with the stinging rebuke of the ex fbi boss.
>> look, he's a showboat. he's a grandstander. the fbi has been in turmoil, you know that. i know that. everybody knows that. you take a look at the fbi a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil less than a year
ago. it hasn't recovered from that. >> monday you met with the deputy attorney general rob rosenstein. >> right. >> did you ask for a recommendation? >> what i did, i was going to fire comey, my decision. it was not -- >> you made the decision before they came in the room. >> i was going to fire comey. there is no good time to do it, by the way. >> because in the letter you said i accepted their recommendation. >> yeah. >> but you had already made the decision? >> i was going to fire regardless of recommendation. >> he made a recommendation, highly respected. very good guy. very smart guy. the democrats like him. the republicans like him. he made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, i was going to fire comey. knowing there was no good time to do it, and in fact, when i
decided to just do it, i said to myself, i said, you know, this russia thing with trump and russia is a made up story. it's an excuse by the democrats for having lost an election, that they should have won. and the reason they should have won it, the electoral college is almost impossible for a republican to win. very hard. because you start off at such a disadvantage. everyone was thinking they should have woj the election. this was an excuse for having lost the election. >> are you angry with mr. comey because of
his russia investigation? >> i just want somebody that's competent. i'm a big fan of the fbi. i love the fbi -- >> are you a fan of him taking up that investigation -- >> i think -- about the hillary clinton investigation? >> no about the russia investigation and possible links between -- >> look, look, let me tell you. as far as i'm concerned, i want that thing to be absolutely done properly. when i did this, now i said i probably maybe
will confuse people, maybe i'll expand that, you know, i'll lengthen the time because it should be over with -- in my opinion, it should have been over with a long time ago, because all it is is an excuse. i said i might lengthen out the investigation but i have
to do the right thing for the american people. he's the wrong man for that position. >> let me ask you about your termination letter to mr. comey. you write, "i greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that i am not under investigation. why did you put that in there? >> he told me -- >> he told you -- >> i've heard that from others -- >> in a phone call. did you meet face-to-face? >> we had a dinner at the white house -- >> he asked -- >> the dinner was arranged. i think he asked for the dinner. and he wanted to stay on as the fbi head. i said, i'll consider, we'll see what happens. we had a very nice dinner and at that time he told me you
are not under investigation, which i knew anyway. >> that was one meeting. >> first of all, when you're under investigation, you're given all sorts of documents and everything. i knew i wasn't under and i heard it was stated at the committee level that i wasn't. number one -- >> so that didn't come directly from him? >> so during the phone call he said it and during another phone call he said it. he said it once at dinner and twice during phone calls. >> did you call him? >> in one case i called him and one case he called me. >> did you ask him, am i under
investigation? >> i actually asked him, yes. i said, if it's possible, would you let me know, am i under investigation? he said you are not under investigation. >> but he's given sworn testimony that there is an ongoing investigation into the trump campaign and possible collusion with the russian government. >> right. >> you were the centerpiece of the trump campaign. so was he being truthful when -- >> let me tell you one thing, i know i'm not under investigation. i'm not talking about campaigns or anything else.
i'm not under investigation. >> did you ask him to drop the investigation? >> never. >> did anyone from the white house -- >> no, in fact, i want the investigation speeded up. >> did anyone from the white house -- >> why would he do that? >> any surrogates on behalf of the white house? >> not that i know. look, i want to find out if there was a problem with an election having to do with russia or anybody else, any other country. and i want that to be so strong and so good, and i want it to happen. i also want to have a really competent, capable director. he's not. he's a show boater. he's not my man or not my man. i didn't appoint him. he was appointed long before me. but i want somebody who's going to do a great job and i will tell you, we're looking at candidates right now that could be spectacular and that's what i want for the fbi. >> what you said a moment ago about supporting the idea for investigation. a lot of people would find it hard to believe that the man who just said that,
tweeted very recently it's a total hoax, it's a taxpayer chara charade. >> oh, i think that looking into me and the campaign, look, i have nothing to do. this was set up by the democrats. there is no collusion between me and my campaign and the russians. the other thing, the russians did not affect the vote. everybody seems to think that. >> there is an investigation underway, though, an fbi investigation. is that a charade? >> i don't know if it's fbi -- there are so many investigations. i don't know if it's an fbi investigation or if it's congress or the senate. >> james comey testified there was an fbi investigation. >> yeah, but i think they are also helping the house and the senate. so you probably have fbi, but you have house, you have senate. they have other investigations. >> when you put out tweets it's a total hoax, it's a taxpayer charade, are you not sending that person a message to lay off? >> no. i'm not doing that. i think that we have
to get back to work but i want to find out, i want to get to the bottom. if russia hacked, if russia did anything, having to do with our election, i want to know about it. >> well, there's already intelligence from virtually every intelligence agency that yes, that happened. >> i'll tell you this. if russia or anybody else is trying to interfere with our elections, i think it's a horrible thing, and i want to get to the bottom of it, and i want to make sure it will never ever happen. >> were you angry with james comey when he went public and said he can't support your unsubstantiated charges of wiretapping that your predecessor wiretapped you? >> i was surprised he said it, but i wasn't angry. there is a big thing going on right now, which is spying. you can call it anything you want. the unmasking and the spying. to me, that's the big story right now. that's a very, very big story. >> you didn't take that as a sign of disloyalty that he came out and
contradicted you. >> i don't think of it as loyalty. i mean, i want -- whoever the director is, i want him to do the right thing. >> and what about when he went public and said there was, in fact, an fbi investigation looking at your campaign in russia? did that anger you? i ask that because there is a sense -- >> i have that -- >> building anger here. >> no, i know every once in awhile you'll see that in a newspaper, anger, somebody will report or have false sources that maybe don't exist because of the media, the way the media is. no, i will tell you i think that i want very simply a great fbi director. >> and will you expect they would continue on with this investigation? >> sure, i expect that. >> general flynn is part of this investigation, sally yates recently testified that the white house had been notified he had been compromised, he was at risk of being blackmailed. it was 18 days later he was finally fired. during that 18 days he had access i assume to the nation's top
secrets. one day you meet on the issue of comey and you fire him in a humiliating way, while he's sitting in a room with his colleagues and it's appearing on tv. >> my white house counsel came back to me and didn't sound like an emergency or sound like he was, you know, she actually didn't make it sound that way, either, in the hearings the other day. like it had to be done immediately. this man has served for many years. he's a general. he's -- in my opinion, a very good person. i believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general. >> so you're acting attorney general at the time. >> my white house counsel came to me. they had, i believe two meetings, and we ultimately fired. but we fired for a different reason. >> you talking about general flynn? >> general flynn, yes. >> because of lying to
the vice president. >> yeah, but everything plays in. everything plays into it. we fired him because he said something to the vice president that was not so. >> did you know that he had had -- received payments from the russian government, that he received payments from the turkish president. >> no, but obama perhaps knew because he had clearance from the obama administration, and this is something they didn't want to report. he had clearance from the obama administration, the highest clearance you can have, and i think it's a very unfair thing the media doesn't talk about
that. you know, you're talking about 2015. i don't know that i knew him in 2015. >> the senate intelligence committee wants information from the treasury department's financial crimes unit about your finances, your businesses' finance. can you tell us whether you, your family, your businesses, surrogates have accepted any investments, any loans
from russian individuals? >> yeah, in fact, i just sent a letter from lindsey graham from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country. a tremendous, highly ritted law firm, that i have nothing to do with russia. i have no investments in russia, none whatsoever. i don't have property in russia. a lot of people thought i owned office buildings in moscow. i don't have property in russia, and i am in very -- i'm in total compliance in every way. i have to tell you, i file documents, hundreds of pages worth of documents with the federal elections bureau. everyone's seen them. i built a great company. but i'm not involved with russia. i have had dealings over the years where i sold a house to a very wealthy russian many years ago. i had the miss universe pageant, which i
quite a while. i had it in moscow a long time ago, but other than that, i have nothing to do with russia. >> one last question on this matter -- >> and i have a certified letter, just so you understand. i'm not just saying that. i've given the letter. i've given the letter to senator lindsey graham. he has the letter and i think frankly, i assume he's going to give
the letter out but it says i am not involved in russia. no loans, no nothing. >> did you worry at all when you made the decision to fire comey when you did? the day before lavrov was here in the white house, and the russian ambassador, did you think through the optics of a way this would look? >> i never thought about -- it was set up a while ago, and frankly i could have waited, but what difference does it make? i'm not looking for cosmetics. i'm looking to do great job for the country. i'm looking to create jobs. i'm looking to create strength and security. i'm looking to have strong borders. i'm looking for things like that. i think it's really a good thing that i meet with people. now, this is a public
meeting, because when you cover this, the people watching may say, oh, he met with lavrov. well, this was announced that i'm meeting with lavrov, just like a number of days ago, i spoke at -- had a very good conversation, very public in the sense that everybody knew this was taking place. i talk all the time. i spoke with the new head of the south korea that got elected. i speak with the head of india. i speak with the head of china. i have to speak with putin, also. it's called russia. but when i spoke with putin, he asked me whether or not i would see lavrov. i said i'll see him. during that discussion, i think we had a great discussion having to do with syria and the ukraine and maybe that discussion will lead to a lot less people getting killed and will lead ultimately to peace. so i'm okay with those discussions, lester. i think it's a good
thing, not a bad thing. >> just part of my conversation with president trump today
and in the fallout from our interview, questions being raised about the president saying he planned to fire director comey regardless and the shifting events the white house has been offering about the surprise dismissal. our chief white house correspondent hallie jackson looks at the tape. >> reporter: in this tale of two days, the story keeps changing. >> regardless of recommendation, i was going to fire comey. >> reporter: flash back to tuesday night when the white house said the president acted based on the clear recommendations of the department of justice. >> no one from the white house. that was a d.o.j. decision. >> reporter: wednesday the president reiterated rob rosenstein's role repeatedly. >> because of the actions to act on the recommendations, take the recommendation of the deputy attorney general. >> reporter: later that day, a shift. >> frankly, he had been considering letting director comey go since the day he was legislated. >> reporter: now the white house deflecting questions on the revised rational.
>> this shun the be a complicated process, the president knew that director comey was not up to the task. >> he has the right to fire for any reason, the problem is the inconsistent reasons being offered. >> reporter: democrat mark warner alarmed at the president calling him a show boat. >> frankly, i'm offended at the president's comments today. >> reporter: in a senate hearing, the acting fbi director defended the man he replaced. >> director comey enjoyed broad support within the fbi and still does to this day. >> reporter: back at the white house today, a different story again. >> i've heard from countless members of the fbi that are grateful and thankful for the president's decision. and i think we may have to agree to disagree. >> reporter: sources in the fbi says the president damaged relationships for firing comey like he did and some agents apparently argued against that predicting he won't be well received, lester? >> hallie jackson across the park from us, thanks.
break any laws or cross lines in asking the fbi director if he was, in fact, the subject of a special investigation? >> lester, i talked to several officials and they agree the president didn't break any laws and asking it wouldn't be considered an attempt to interfere with the federal investigation, though, many of these same people i talked with also said they thought it was unwise to ask and said the fbi director could have said that it would not be best if he answered the question. by the way, andrew mccabe, who is now the acting fbi director told congress he will not give any updates to the president on the investigation, lester? >> all right. let me turn pete to chuck. and chuck, what about the man at the center of all this, rod rosenstein? >> look, rod rosenstein is the new capitol hill catnip at this point. you got a lot of members of congress that want to see him up there and testify because a lot of members want to know what did he know about this comey decision
and when did he know it and did somebody ask him to do this? how did that go about? because frankly, even though the president now is taking personal responsibility for the decision to fire comey in the interview with you, lester, the fact that the story changed so much in 48 hours has really unsettled a bunch of republicans on capitol hill and that will lead to a lot more questions. >> all right, chuck and pete. thank you. we're back in a moment with more from my exclusive interview with the president.
we're back now from washington where near the end of my conversation with president trump today, i brought up something he said as sort of an aside recently, that a lot of people thought was curious, if not odd for a sitting president. take a listen. you were in the rose garden the other day celebrating the passage of health care repeal and replacement and you looked around and said, can you believe i'm president? i'm the president. i wanted to be in your
head at that moment. do you still have moments where you think, how did i get here? >> i think everybody does. i think when you become president, it's very special when you're in the white house, it's very special and i had all of my republican friends, who frankly have been in politics all their lives and have done a great job. they're congressmen and we had some senators, enet cetera. but i did, i looked around and said sorry, folks, can you believe it's me? the truth is, i think anybody that becomes president of the united states has to every once in awhile say that's really amazing. >> president trump there with his thoughts on being commander in chief. after our interview, president trump signed a new executive order forming a commission to investigate alleged voter fraud. the president and the white house repeatedly made unsubstantiated statements including mr. trump's claim he lost a popular vote from millions of people that voted illegally. we'll take a break
===take vo=== new surveillance video reveals a person of interest in the search for an arsonist in the east bay. ===raj/take vo=== plus: the first of its kind in the state. the plan to make a local stretch of freeway safer -- after a rash of drivebys. ===next close=== that's going to do it for us from the nation's capitol on this thursday night. you can see more tomorrow on "today"
and here on "nightly news." i'm lester holt. for all of us on nbc news, thank you for watching and good night. who )s doing this. trt: 4 ==jess/take vo== award-winning. ed. at this point we want to make sure that we can try and catch the person who is doing this. right now at 6:00 we're following breaking news. investigators release new information as they zero in on an arsonist in the east bay. the news as 6:00 starts right now. thanks for joining us jessica aguirre. >> raj mathai. when the sun goes down could the arsonist strike again? so far five cars torched across the east bay. tonight getting the first look at the person of interest in this case. at the top of the surveillance video you can make it out. you can see a man leaving the scene of one of these car fires.
nbc bay area rick boone joins from us pleasant hill where we got an update. >> reporter: yeah they talked a lot about that tape, the viewers just kmekd out there. we're showing that to you. that person of interest they want to you look very closely. because that was the person they say was caught on surveillance tape just moments -- just moments before the recent fire. you can hardly see the person at the top of your screen but they may play a roll in now a brentwood car caught fire. >> i was thinking about how terrifying that kids must have been for the kids to hearing the banging on the door, shack shaken out of sleep. >> we learned the fires this week in lafayette walnut creek and brentwood, the two are now feshlly connected the this is the latest fire from brentwood today investigators are still looking for suspects or suspect. >> we want to make sure we can try and catch the